“I will never, ever, ever take you to Disney World or Land. Ever!” I tell Mister Baby. Three weeks later I am forced to eat my words, having capitulated in the face of free tickets to DisneyLand Paris acquired by a friend. Mister Baby is thrilled; I focus on the Paris aspect.
It doesn’t help that I envision Disneyland as Dante’s version of medieval hell, and that I have cast my friend in the role of Virgil as guide to my Dante. “At least we’ll be together,” chirps Virgil. Somehow, I‘m not convinced. I don’t imagine the greedy denizens of the Hell’s fourth circle ceasing their cries of: “Why do you hoard? Why do you squander?” to gloat to their co-sufferers: “At least we’re not in Circle Five, those angry sinners have sunk ‘into a black sulkiness which can find no joy in God or man or the universe.’” And even if they did, would that really make them feel better? I doubt it.
We are accompanied on our tour of the underworld by Mister Baby, Virgil’s daughter and her school chum. The elated innocents are blissfully unaware that we are passing through the gates of Hell (the ones that say: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”). The queues, if not the promised magic, begin the moment you arrive; the line for ticket collection, the line into the castle, the line to see the princesses (complete with medieval pointy hats!) a snaking procession of the souls of the uncommitted. We, like them, are pursued and endlessly stung by the wasps and hornets of “when is it our turn?” and the “I want a toy” suck of maggots on our blood and tears.
Like many a sinner before me, there is some of the sinning I enjoy. We wander like the guiltless damned through Limbo until the gusts of Lust sway our reason. There’s no turning back and we slip in the vile slush of Gluttony. Mister Baby craves popcorn, which is a mere 15 minutes of wasps’ stings until we are next in line when he announces: “I don’t want popcorn anymore.” We retreat from the line and rejoin our party only to find that Francesca has decided she does want popcorn. More wasps and hornets. Then, as the other two miscreants want ‘barbe à papa’(cotton candy or candy floss to me and you) we throw ourselves onto that queue. The very nice Australians pass on the secrets of obtaining Grandpa’s beard: you must first purchase a ticket from the kiosk next door. I understand why when I see the poor gluttonous malefactor who is serving the giant balls of spun sugar. She is arm deep in the stuff, her face and protective goggles are covered in a hoar frost of sugar, a veritable witch at work at her cauldron. Cupfuls of the powdery poison are cast into the centrifuge and scraped from the sides until a glistening pink sputnik is conjured. The witch is far too sticky to also be a moneychanger. We are only a soul sucking half hour from the front of the line, plenty of time for the little gremlins to gobble popcorn and pester us for crude offerings from the kiosk. The Australians depart with their pound of sugar in the form of four shimmering globes. I move forward, tickets in hand, but the French man who was behind is now, curiously, in front of us brandishing his tickets. I muster my pride and scorn and spew forth: “It must be the magic of Disney: one minute you’re behind me, the next you’re in front of me!” And perhaps this is the magic at work at last because he and his wife stomp off. I feel immediately if only briefly repentant but Virgil assuages me: “French people cut in all the time.”
The Parade of Dreams (The eighth circle of fraud)is the crescendo of the day’s Disney fervor. An unctuous voice peals incessantly, exhorting us panderers and seducers in numerous languages to line up, line up. The grotesque and distorted caricatures lurch past- our journey through hell made flesh. Cruella Deville drives up in a gleaming Studebaker (Why do I hoard?), she leans out, devil red talons flashing and beadily eyes Virgil’s sinfully snowy faux fur and shrieks: “Dahling, I love your coat!”
The lurid Disney shop - the treacherous ninth circle - is our final penance. We emerge dispirited, laden with our traitorous sins and trudge to the train back to Paris.